What's your thesis for thriving in business and life after the troubles cool? What is your greatest unrealized aspiration? As you contemplate the loss of all that is dear to you, it's also worth pondering what was already missing in your prior life. Creating space for real change in the emotional heat of a crisis is a difficult proposition. This is a watershed moment for us all. As the old becomes the new, how will you know you've done all you can?
Like most people I am wondering what to make of these extraordinary times. A great crisis is a time of upheaval that disrupts the existing individual, local and world order. As the prevailing ideas, models and structures disintegrate under the weight of the world, this is the best possible time to ask what's next. Things will be different. Some important things will be lost but new more valuable things found. Truthfully, I'm glad to see some of my old attachments, habits and attitudes forced to yield to something better. As the large tide sweeps back to sea, it will take many of these less desirable aspects with it. It's up to me to decide what's left.
There will not be an easier time than right now to make that change.
Since most of us are already dealing with difficulties well beyond previous imagination, the added discomfort of confronting our long-standing, deep-seated personal demons could seem relatively minor now. The marginal cost of change may never be lower and the marginal benefit never higher. It is in the nature of life itself to wring out the old in favor of the new, and if you are going to be disrupted anyway, you might as well up the vigor on the pursuit of your dreams. We'll never have this much space to contemplate new visions and undertake the research and development to bring it about.
A thesis is a proposal for what will work best in an uncertain future.
The most opportune time to change a system is at the point of maximum chaos, but unfortunately that's also the time that leaders are most likely to lose their shit dealing with the stress. The Royal Dutch Shell company was one of the pioneers of scenario planning as a way of contemplating strategic decisions in a time of debilitating uncertainty. Their work predated the design thinking movement. I've evolved my thinking over the years as I have worked with teams facing the useful end of a once-workable business system and the need to make radical change.
Scenario planning begins with identifying the key dimensions of uncertainty. This alone brings a degree of clarity to the problem space. In the case of the coronavirus pandemic or an economic recession, what is of concern to people facing lost income and health is the duration of the troubles and the depth of the recovery required. I've put these two dimensions into an orthagonal relationship in the matrix below, in order to isolate four scenarios. Regardless of what happens in the future, it will fall somewhere on this map.
My thesis for a good life and business after the crisis is a reflection of all four of these possible futures. By considering what each version of the future might look like, my creative brain, much of it nonconscious, crafts a workable approach. This is a way to create clarity from uncertainty, rather than certainty, which is not practically available to human beings contemplating an unpredictable future. As I force myself to confront the reality of each scenario, I am naturally better prepared as the future unfolds somewhere on this map.
Scenario planning leads to clarity and proactivity not certainty.
Hoping for the best and planning for the worst seems like a good idea but it can lead us astray. Hope as a strategy often leaves people without an actual plan. And people are subject to a number of cognitive distortions as they do plan for an ambiguous future and mysterious risks. No one knows what's going to happen ever. People either get overly catastrophic (think zombie apocalypse) or overly optimistic (think PollyAnna). The point is to face reality. An honest assessment of the real best and worst case scenarios, allows us to bracket what are likely to be the most probable scenarios (some degree of suffering and struggle that we all need to be prepared for.) A long and shallow recovery puts a stressful emotional cloud over everyone's head, while a short and deep recovery forces people to grapple with significant physical and material suffering. These are the design variables a thesis must accommodate.
It's time to launch your
Big. Important. Game.